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Timor Mortis Conturbat Me

Published by: Harry on 23rd Aug 2011 | View all blogs by Harry
This excellent article asks the question whether books are dead and whether authors, in a professional sense, are dead. According to the article's author, Ewan Morrison, the answer is obvious: OF COURSE THEY'RE DEAD, YOU NUMPTY. Even if you loathe these questions, the article is worth looking at, as it's by far the best thing I've read on the topic.

I think Morrison is right. Not completely right, I'm sure. The JK Rowlings and Dan Browns will make money no matter what happens. But the idea of decent authors being able to make a career from writing is coming to an end. Authors could only ever make a modest living, but there's a heck of a different between living modestly and not living at all.

That outcome cuts two ways, however. For those like me who do currently make a living from writing, it's bad news. No ifs, no buts. Those making a living from the pen are like candle-sellers at the onset of electrification. We're going out of business. Not all of us, but most of us.

On the other hand, for committed 'amateurs' - for most Word Clouders, in other words - the horizon looks bright. Self-pub has gone from being a crazy cider-and-sandals option to perfectly normal. I suspect that it's now migrating again from normal to the default route for plenty of authors. There won't be much cash involved, but there's no reason why self-pubbers shouldn't gain real readerships, real followings, real acclaim, real success. We're not quite there yet - conventional publication is still the best route for those who can engineer it - but that future is getting ever closer.

(Oh, and if you're baffled by the incredibly pretentious title to this blog post, you'll find enlightenment here. Dunbar's poem, one of the earliest in English-English literature - as opposed to Anglo-Saxon English lit - is the best bit of gloom I kn0w. Makes George Osborne look like a crazy party-animal.)

(Oh, and I wear sandals and like cider. I'm not anti those things. Just, you know. The beards.)

Comments

30 Comments

  • CJ
    by CJ 2 years ago
    Dang. Well, there go my dreams of making just enough money to allow me to stay at home with my children and not have to worry about being late for work or trying to cram in that precious half an hour's worth of writing (if I'm lucky!) per day just to keep things ticking over...

    Silly thing is, I am sure most people know they aren't going to make Rowlian-esque bucks off the backs of their labours. Most of us just want to make enough to be able to keep on writing and not have to worry about fitting it in at 4am before going off, exhausted, to do a full day's work. Well, that's the dream, any way! I don't know about anyone else, but I don't know how much stamina I actually have to keep writing novels that may possibly sell for peanuts if I am incredibly lucky if I also have to work a demanding day job and raise my kids. Sure, I'll keep writing for fun... but that will ultimately lead to things like editing and the like slipping, because let's face it, if I'm doing it for fun, then I'm going to indulge in the fun stuff (the creating) and not the hard slog (revising / editing). How many great books are going to languish in drawers, half edited, simply because people don't have the time to finish them, nor the inclination because they know that the 'dream' of being a writer is now effectively an anachronism and just isn't going to happen, no matter how hard they try? I don't about any one else, but part of what keeps me going is 'the dream' of being a writer; it's that dream that makes me drag myself to the computer to edit chapter 2 *yet again* rather than sit down and watch multiple re-runs of Come Dine With Me whilst scoffing Maltesers until my gums ache!

    Self publishing is definitely looking more and more attractive as the weeks slip by, I must admit.
  • Debi
    by Debi 2 years ago
    I nearly had to click away from the article as I found it so depressing, but it was worthwhile carrying on to the last few paras where a ray of watery sunshine peeps through.

    But, you know what? Having read it, I've decided to shut down the net and work on my WIP instead. Stubborn it may be; counter intuitive it almost definitely is. But people who have a compulsion to write just can't help themselves.
  • Vanessa
    by Vanessa 2 years ago
    I am with debi all the way...truth is though, nothing in life is easy. Artists have to sell their works, athletes need to train hard to get results, and authors need to think of an idea people want to read...go into any bookstore or library, books are all around. Think back to the time when books where burnt and people thought reading was evil...books will always hold magic for some and nothing for others, and I think that applies regardless of how it is presented. I say we keep writing, hoping and holding on to the dream...without dreams life is empty...
  • John Taylor
    by John Taylor 2 years ago
    I just write. I have more doubts now than when I started as to whether I will ever get published, but spend far more time than I ever did writing. I don't expect that situation to change, because novels, and one strand of stories in particular, have taken over my life. This morning, I was glued to the browning pages of a children's book I first read when I was eleven. There are other people who read and read again. And I still hope that one day, someone might pick up a book call 'The Blackbird Effect' with a smile and read it again. Even if it's a pile of manuscript PVA-glued into a recycled cardboard back that was bought at a car boot sale before the thought police turned up.
  • Andrew James
    by Andrew James 2 years ago
    It's a compellingly written argument. But.

    My old business used to involve publishing magazines; ten years ago, people were telling us print and paper's dead, magazines (especially the marketing-based corporate ones that I published) were all going on the net. Sure, some did. The best didn't, or at least did alongside their traditional printed versions, rightly recognising the net and the printed page as two distinctly different media.

    The examples about the music industry are interesting, but again, just as a lot is given away for free, the savvy labels are learning how to embrace new forms of distribution and the quality's still being paid for: you want to hear an unknown artist with potential? Cool, Youtube. Or your local music-based pub. You want to hear Beyonce, or the Foo Fighters? Cough up. ANd yes, they're the establishment, but new acts are continually breaking through and not 'giving it all away.'

    'Bookselling' is still big business. Sure in time, a lot of that might migrate from paper to digital. But the lifeblood of that business will remain new artists, new authors. It might make it harder to cut through; but then, there have always been a lot of small publishers, selling not very many copies, whose authors make peanuts.

    To really make it as an author, in a financial sense, is it really any harder for the majority than it always has been?
  • Debi
    by Debi 2 years ago
    People will always want to hear a new piece of music and there will always be a demand for good stories. Yes, changes are afoot, but there always have been, to a greater or lesser extent. The medium by which those stories are read may be different in a year or 2 , as well as the means by which they got there. But ...

    But we're writers. It's what we do. We just have to get on with it.

    I saw a tweet by book blogger David Hebblethwaite this afternoon: 'I wonder how long it will be before someone writes an article entitled "Is this the end for "Are Books Dead?" articles.'
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 2 years ago
    All sounds depressingly likely. If all writing is going to be a vehicle for advertising (viz the 'free-ness' of it all, funded by clicks), does that makes us uber-consumers? Who is it who's producing anything of primary value for the clicking masses to consume? Are we moving into a Japanese style of deflation economy where things become so cheap that nobody wants them any more - because if they put off buying, it'll be cheaper next week?
    I'll carry on writing and learning as I've always done because I like it; as for the 'getting published' aspect, that's a whole different kettle of kippers. One wonders, is there any point? The validation would be nice. Anything else?
    Ah well, there's nothing so constant as change.

    Oh, and thanks for the link to that poem - but I was still none the wiser as to the meaning of the latin phrase. I just used on on-line translator (free, with lots of clickable flashy things). It informed me that the meaning is: 'Fear Deadly To derange'. Still none the wiser :)
  • Vanessa
    by Vanessa 2 years ago
    I was just given five books for my birthday...I've read two already... could not put them down! three to go, and I have astacks more to read. I know I'm not the only one. Stop looking at the negative, and realise there are a lot of people out there that love to read books...real books, that you can flick through and read in bed. I can't see myself reading comfortably with an ipad or kindle...maybe its just me.

    I love to read, and I know lots of people out there just like me, so as long as there are people like me, writers need to write and publish books.

    Although, if there is something I'll admit to, it is this. Not every type of book will remain popular. Cookbooks - prefer it on the ipad. Poems - ipad. Fiction, Historical or information - real book please...

    Changes are ahead, but calm down people...there are worse things in life to worry about...
  • SecretSpi
    by SecretSpi 2 years ago
    I like the idea of a rich patron - any offers?
  • Vanessa
    by Vanessa 2 years ago
    What do you have in mind SS...?
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 2 years ago
    That was a bit of a depressing read. But as other people have said, it won't stop me writing. Would be nice if I was able to score a lovely lucrative publishing deal at some point, but in the meantime, I'm happy to continue as I am, squeezing the writing in between work, childcare and life. Don't really fancy going back to the days of watching crap on telly every evening and somehow wasting a lot of time doing very little - it wasn't very satisfying.
  • Vanessa
    by Vanessa 2 years ago
    Skylark, you just hit the nail on the head - TV or inspiration, choose...I know what I choose, but I have to admit I still enjoy watching TV too...we can have it all...
  • SecretSpi
    by SecretSpi 2 years ago
    ...I was thinking of all those people in the 18th or 19th century who had more money than they knew what to do with and therefore indulged it all on some poor struggling artist/composer/writer, keeping them in fine claret, or whatever was needed for inspiration...as I say, open to offers over here...
  • Vanessa
    by Vanessa 2 years ago
    ha ha ha ... I like it.

    Seriously, someone once told me you could pay a publisher to publish your book at a cost of around £10,000 - is that true???

    I have to say, fame certainly has a way of propping up some rubbish books... maybe, SS what you should do, is add someone famous to your story - then they'll pay you for the publicity...
  • Kenty
    by Kenty 2 years ago
    OK you lot cheer up, never say never! for anything to be booming there has to be a demand the majority of people only pick a book up to read when they go on holiday, it's a having the time thing to read or write a book.
    So I suggest we start a Tandem story, I used to love doing them on here, laughing to myself right now with memories of Gerald and Julian - both created right here on cloud. :O)
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 2 years ago
    Not saying never - and will continue to dip toe into publishing pond occasionally on the off-chance cos it's fun to imagine; just asking if it's possible to make a living, that's all. Just please don't mention JKR and her nine rejections or I may have to step outside - and I'll be an extremely long time.
  • Ali
    by Ali 2 years ago
    Half way through 'Getting Published' and was thinking about going to the fest in October.
    Maybe I won't finish the book and there are some nice fests in Germany in October.
    Not good for business, Harry!

    Which of course it is...publishing I mean, not writing.
  • John Taylor
    by John Taylor 2 years ago
    Some of the statistics being quoted mislead because they are not comparing like with like. My son asked a few friends these questions about both e-books and paper books... How many have you bought this year? How many have you started? How many have you finished?

    From this straw poll, he concludes that buying an e-book is far less likely to lead on to the reader even starting to read the book! People will buy e-books in greater numbers, and then not bother to read a high proportion of the books they own. Most people who buy a paper book at least begin to read it - even if it's 'A Brief History of Time,' notoriously bought and unfinished by vast numbers of people.
  • Spangles
    by Spangles 2 years ago
    If books are dead, can someone please tell me why I have been so busy writing my own commissioned books, revising books that I wrote a few years ago and which are being reissued and updated by my publisher, and editing other people's books ready for publication. that I haven't had time for a holiday this year?
  • Ali
    by Ali 2 years ago
    Yeah, wot Spangles said!
    There's only one numpty around here and that's Mr Morrison, who seems to have too much time on his hands.
    There will always be books in one form or another and books need writers...films need writers, tv needs writers, computer games need writers....what ever comes next when my 13 year old has grandchildren will need writers.
    Things change, Writers and the industry will adapt, tell me something I don't know.
  • Harry
    by Harry 2 years ago
    Should have said - I'm not going to give up writing either. Love it far too much. It's not a job for me, it's a well-paid hobby.

    As for Caducean Confusions: Timor Mortis Conturbat Me = The fear of death disturbs me. Only it sounds better in Latin, no? Almost Hogwartian.
  • Kate7
    by Kate7 2 years ago
    I'm all depressed now :(
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 2 years ago
    Thank you for the clarification, H-Boss. Caducean Confusions is now packing for a trip into the void: bikini, thermals, bird book, crampons, hair dryer and the cats. Oh and a couple of rounds of egg sandwiches. Anything else? Oh yes - a packet of plasters and phone charger. That'll do.
  • Vanessa
    by Vanessa 2 years ago
    Most jobs people enjoy doing are hobbies...
  • Joanna
    by Joanna 2 years ago
    The pedant in me has to point out that Shakespeare, Dostoyesky and Dickens didn't get paid wages - Shakespeare was a jobbing playwriter who presumably got his money from having his plays put on, Dickens was the Dan Brown of his day and toured giving lectures and readings to supplement his income and Dostoyesky was paid by the publisher on completion of each chapter. And advances are not wages! They are advanced against future royalties and if you don't earn enough in royalties to pay back your advance you get sacked by the publisher and royalties are lower these days due to big discounts. Writers have never earned a fortune, unless you're one of the lucky few but at least writers are doing something that they (most of them at least) enjoy.
  • Harry
    by Harry 2 years ago
    Alastair - There will always be books, yes. The question is whether authors are paid to produce them, or whether they do so in their spare time, for pennies rather than pounds. Morrison's argument is that the latter is much the most likely outcome. I think he's probably right.
  • SecretSpi
    by SecretSpi 2 years ago
    Joanna makes a good point, which is what I was trying to get at with mention of patrons. Surely the huge earning author is a product of, say, the last forty years? Isn't it just a case of things going back to how they were pre the "blockbuster" paperback?
  • Ali
    by Ali 2 years ago
    Harry, I just think these things have a habit of sorting themselves out and it is up to authors to make sure their interests are addressed.
    I have literally put aside 'Getting Published' to type this (chalk up another one) and the publishing industry strikes me as plain bonkers. (technical term) How it has survived in this state is beyond my limited reasoning. Being an ex-banker (boo, hiss) I'm surprised your head didn't spontaneously combust when you first entered the industry.
    I think things are long over due change and writers/authors should see opportunity. I also think authors should get on the front foot, Society of Authors in particular and put up a united front. It absolutley ridiculous that the authors be the ones to suffer in all this. We will either end up like farmers, under the heel of the supermarkets or we could fight for our livelihoods.
    We are at a tipping point and someone should take things by the scruff.
  • Harry
    by Harry 2 years ago
    SS - I don't think anyone really cares about the blockbuster authors. The real challenge is for debuts and midlist authors. The latter have had an increasingly hard time in recent years and I do think the outlook is worrying. Thirty years ago, you could get a decent advance (ie: enough to live on modestly) for books that were never going to sell hugely. That ain't so today.

    Alistair - but my head did combust!
  • Ali
    by Ali 2 years ago
    Harry, sorry thought you always looked like that.
    We have a choice, either stop worrying and do something about it or stop worrying because we can't do anything about it.
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